Explaining September 11 to your kids with a book

Explaining September 11 to your kids

Ozma Bryant shares how to talk to kids about the tragic 9/11 attack on September 11, 2001. Explaining September 11 to your kids is not always easy, but it gives you, as a parent, a chance to talk about this tragic moment and how it changed our world and the people who live in it.


“Where were you on the morning of September 11?” We all know the answer to that question; at least those of us born sometime prior to the year 2000, but what about those born later, those who are blessed with not being a part of such a heart-wrenching tragedy?

My friend asked if I would write something about speaking with children about 9/11. Many thoughts came flickering to mind; most of them some kind of watered down version of what I feel my truth on the topic is.

Why do we do that? Why do we, as adults, assume that children should be so protected and hidden from human tragedy? I am in no way suggesting we shower them with a barrage of endless gory details, yet we often go the polar opposite and share too little instead. What happened to finding the happy medium?


Explaining September 11 to your kids

Children are humans that process and deal with their world in a different brain development than we do, but that does not mean stories, information and communication should be withheld from them. I think it is highly possible that the lack of this connection with our children contributes to the desensitized attitude toward violence we see so much of today.

So how do we, as adults, address 9/11 with our children? Do we give them such a watered down version of events that they are left better off not knowing anything? Wait until they are older and it feels ‘more appropriate’ or ‘easier’ to talk with them? Let them hear about it from elsewhere, school, etc? I have another solution.

One of my greatest teacher’s, who is well-versed in the kind of peaceful parenting that is reshaping our world, has modeled for me numerous times the importance of making books with children. When you make a book with a child you are tapping into something that makes sense to their development, and turning the pages into a vessel that releases big emotions (fear, sadness, anger, pain, etc).

The book does not need a happy ending, and it should be written with the child as the main character

“Olivia went to school. Olivia is not happy. Olivia misses mommy and cries.”

That may be the entire book. The point is to help release something and connect to what was alive for the child in that moment. The child tells you her story, you write it- ask what happened, how it felt, as she draws pictures to the words. You will read the story several times and may notice that after each time the pain or fear or big feelings become smaller and smaller. This also works when YOU have big feelings. Sometimes the book has a resolution, sometimes it doesn’t, either way the book has served its purpose.


Focus on being truthful and peaceful

This year, when you are thinking about how to explain September 11 to your child, consider being as honest as possible through the blank pages of a book. If it seems too painful and you are not ready, try making a calendar of the month of September where you can help them know that special day as a time when we remember special people in our lives and make sure we give them our love.

Ask your child how he/she can show love to someone and you will be amazed at the answers.

All it takes is two or three folded sheets, some markers or crayons, and your awareness and truth about what this day means to you. If you are ready to share this information with your child remember that you are also teaching them a valuable life-long lesson about communicating with one another and cherishing the short amount of time we have available to us on this earth.

If it is not the right time yet, think about making a book just for yourself… share it with a loved one and remember that moment in time peacefully and truthfully.


In honor of 9/11

If you get a chance, greet a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, the military or any service person that protects our country. Thank them for their hard work and for serving our country.

For more inspiration on explaining 9/11, read how to talk to young kids about 9/11.

Join the discussion

Have you explained 9/11 to your child? How did you do it? If you are a teacher, I’d love to hear how you incorporate remembering 9/11 with your classroom. Share your thoughts and experience in the comments below.

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3 Responses to Explaining September 11 to your kids with a book

  1. Arianna September 11, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    My son will be 4 next month. This was the first year I thought he ‘might’ understand what 9/11 means.

    I was a New Yorker, with close family ties still there. My son had a relationship with New York.

    It wasn’t easy to explain. At least in a way that didn’t cause fear and made sense. So we explained how two planes hit two very tall and important buildings in New York. I asked my son, ‘What do you think happened to the plane when it hit the building? What do you think happened to the building?

    We went on to talk about all the brave people, firemen, police officers, doctors and nurses who helped during the accident. We talked about different ways they helped. How amazing they were. How their kindness, love and bravery saved many lives, and how for some, it’s how they lost their own lives.

    I have a grade school friend, a firefighter, who lost his life in 9/11. Our town dedicated a park in his name. My son played at that park often, so we reminded him of the park and how that park was built in honor (to remember) my friend.

    We touched a little upon who/why 9/11 happened, but at the same time, I think my son is too young to fully grasp the idea of terrorism. We simply said there are unkind people in this world that are jealous of Americans. They don’t agree with what we have and either want it, or don’t want us to have it. That these same people made bad choices and decided to hurt us, instead of be our friends.

    It’s complicated, isn’t it? I felt comfortable with the way we talked to my son about 9/11 and trust as he gets older, the conversation will get deeper.

    Our hearts will always be with the people who lost their lives, saved lives and fight for our lives each and every day.

  2. Family Sponge September 11, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    It is complicated, Arianna. I love how you talked about all the brave men and women on that day. I think once we pick our son up from school today, we will bake some cookies and bring them to our local firehouse to say thank you.

    There are so many lives lost that day, which still sits heavy my heart. Yet there is so much to be thankful for as well— and we can act on that and surround our heros with love and gratitude. Thanks for sharing your story, and I am so sorry for the loss of your friend 11 years ago. (I’m getting teary-eyed just writing this).


  3. qhgzmmz February 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    I fail to see how you can even attempt to explain something as complicated as terrorism or the 9-11 attacks to little kids.

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